Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger
(Seal Press, 2019)
In today’s political climate, people, particularly women, are angry—and rightfully so. Burn It Down, the forthcoming anthology of essays edited by Lilly Dancyger, features 22 writers who explore what it means to be angry and the reasons for their anger as women today. The essays take a look at who gets to be angry, exploring ideas of race, sexuality, identity, and more.
The anthology opens with a poignant essay by Leslie Jamison titled “Lungs Full of Burning,” exploring her lifelong aversion to anger and what it took for her to finally admit, “I was angrier than I thought.” Jamison looks at the ways women’s anger is portrayed in the media, citing figures like Tonya Harding, Uma Thurman, Michelle Obama, and Serena Williams. The essay opens up a discussion on the racism that accompanies representations of anger, and how often white women are praised for public displays of anger, while Black women are chided and punished. Jamison’s essay is a perfect starting point for the collection, paving a way for the other essayists to open up about their own experiences with anger.
Dancyger has carefully organized this collection, providing a platform for both established and newer writers to speak on their experiences of anger and pushing them to express that anger. In the introduction, Dancyger writes, “I wanted this to be a place where our anger could live, a place for us to take up space after generations of being told to shrink, to rage after a lifetime of being told to behave.” In many respects, the book does just that, placing women’s anger at the forefront, giving these 22 writers the opportunity to share their stories.
In “Rebel Girl,” Melissa Febos beautifully describes the rage and fury of her teenage self and how she drank, lied, and spent her time around older boys. She describes her father finding out about her trysts after reading her diary, and Febos writes, “my mind bleached white hot, like an exposed negative. My body was brand new but felt singed around the edges, already ruined in some principal way.” Febos’s lyrical descriptions and chilling metaphors guide us through the essay as she describes a sense of solace among other girls her age and how a camp for girls helped her gain the courage to come out as queer. She realizes her anger “was a reasonable reaction to growing up in a country that hated women and encouraged women to hate each other,” showing that anger is oftentimes the only rational response to the society we live in.
Rios de la Luz, in her essay “Enojada,” tells the heartbreaking story of being molested by her mother’s boyfriend and her mother’s lack of action. De la Luz tells through the framework of ghost stories and stories of the devil, drawing the reader into a fantasy world that is simultaneously very real and very dangerous.
In “A Girl, Dancing,” Nina St. Pierre, in lyrical, often beautifully fragmented prose describes the dichotomy of her life as teenage girl, pulled between two worlds and sinking. She describes the way dancing and her body were a means of coping with the anger. St. Pierre writes, “Teen girls are not divas or drama queens or rebels with no cause. We are here to tell you something and we are using our bodies to wake you the fuck up. We are brave beasts lighting our limbs afire to illuminate darkness.”
Evette Dionne, in “Unbought and Unbossed,” describes the “intricate relationship between fatness, Blackness, and rage that could make me appear as the aggressor even when I was merely defending myself.” She describes holding her anger in amid teasing and microaggressions from other children, and after an incident in fifth grade, she becomes “concerned about being seen as aggressive and uncontrollable.” Dionne opens up an important conversation on “how the world understands fat Black bodies.” Like Jamison says in her opening essay, some women are not allowed to be angry, for society views their anger as dangerous and out of control. Dionne learns this lesson early in life and spends years “shrinking.” Today, though, Dionne uses her anger as a “salve,” adding that “Reclaiming anger as a legitimate response to both interpersonal and systemic transgression is a Black feminist project that I proudly participate in—finally.”
Every single essay in this collection touches on an important topic or idea that illuminates the ways in which women express anger and are prevented from expressing it. Shaheen Pasha describes the way society views her as too Muslim while her Pakistani community views her as not Muslim enough and the rightful anger that comes with that lack of belonging. Anna Fitzpatrick tells the devastating story of her rape and the anger, grief, and complicated emotions that came after. Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger delivers essay after essay of bold and powerful writing.